Lane Kiffin and Tennessee Move Forward Together

Will SheltonSenior Analyst IDecember 1, 2008

One of the most true things I know in life is that people will see what they want to see.

If you want to be negative today, you can use numbers like 33 or 5-15.

If you want to be positive, you see that 33 a little differently, and tack the word "experience" onto the 5-15 mark in Oakland.

Either way, as the 2008 season is officially put to bed and all Vol fans turn towards 2009 with literally the longest offseason in program history in front of us, we have to realize a couple of things.

1.) Putting Lane Kiffin over to the side for a moment, wasn't 2008 as bad as it's ever going to get in many ways to be a Tennessee Vol?

A team with championship expectations went 5-7. The games they won were against UAB, Northern Illinois, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky—nothing you'd write home about. The Vols fielded the worst offense in the modern history of the program that was literally unwatchable for many who just stopped coming to Neyland Stadium.

A Tennessee legend was painfully forced out after 35 years of service to his university, and a head coaching career that included a National Championship.

And Saturday night, one year after we were there in the Georgia Dome, the SEC Championship Game will feature No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Florida, winner goes to the BCS National Championship Game.

This season has been in the depths of despair.

Three weeks ago the downward spiral stopped, at some point during the off week between the loss to Wyoming and the season ending wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Beating our annual whipping posts doesn't signal that everything's going to be alright, but it certainly didn't make it worse.

And seeing Phillip Fulmer exit the field victorious—and with a smile on his face—helped make things more OK, at least for me.

We can all agree that 2008 was a disaster. And I will probably go my whole life without seeing a more difficult season on a holistic level than this one for the University of Tennessee. I certainly hope so.

2.) Understand that this makes life very much easier for Lane Kiffin.

You'll see what you want to see. If you loved watching Kiffin channel Jim Tressel in the press conference today by talking about beating Florida next year (and astute fans will remember that Tressel's Buckeyes went 6-6 in his first season...but did beat Michigan. And then won the National Championship the next year. I'm just saying.)—if you enjoyed the press conference, if you wanna get all "There's gonna be CHANGE!" crazy the way many have experience in doing from early November, if you're already talking yourself into an instant turnaround whether you hated Phillip Fulmer or not...

...remember that Dave Clawson and Buzz Peterson won the press conference too. Then remember that the Clawfense was built up from that day until it hit the field in Los Angeles. Then remember where we are now.

The press conference is meaningless in September. And September is what counts.

The only thing I remember about Bruce Pearl's press conference was him saying that a number of guys had walked thru that door in the last few years and walked out 3-4 years later because they didn't get it done, and that if he didn't get it done he'd be walking out that way too.

Bruce Pearl didn't win us in the press conference. He won us in Austin, Texas. And he's been winning us ever since.

So whether you're already talking smack on the message boards, or if you're still clutching your autographed Phillip Fulmer picture close to your heart (mine's on my bedroom wall in my parents' house)—don't get pulled too hard towards love or hate based on what you know in 36 hours about Lane Kiffin.

If you're not sold on/talking yourself into Kiffin yet, that's OK. If we win, we'll all be on board. If we don't, we won't.

But no matter your personal feelings on Kiffin at this point, do understand that this is a very good time to be the new head coach at Tennessee.

Literally speaking, if the Vols go 6-6 next year, it will be an improvement.

The expectations we've built here and the bar that Kiffin referenced still exist. But don't let the pseudo-joy you might be feeling right now overshadow how bad it felt to go 5-7 this year. And don't let your disagreement with this hire get in the way of understanding that we have lots of room to improve.

If Kiffin goes 6-6 three times, he'll be walking through that door too. But we don't know the full direction this program is going in. Right now, all we know is that we've just been through the most difficult football season of my lifetime, and we've got a young new head coach who can't possibly take us through something more difficult next time around.

There is plenty of room for this to get better.

And we'll see. I personally like to be positive. So when Pete Carroll was on Knoxville radio SportsTalk today and called Monte Kiffin "the best defensive coordinator of any lifetime", I liked that. The fact that Steve Spurrier is already complaining about Kiffin's recruiting...I like that.

I like that Kiffin is straightforward. I think he's funny—especially when he pulled a Chandler Bing non-smile every time they tried to take his picture—and I think that 100 percent of the returning players on offense will be more bought into his system than they were Dave Clawson's.

Competition is good for everybody. So I think an open competition across the board makes the necessary effor to put the best players on the field. I liked that.

And I liked the respect he paid to Phillip Fulmer.

Ultimately, we'll see. Right now, I'm on board with this guy because he's our head coach. And every single other Vol fan should do likewise. This includes the ones who jumped off the ship just because they didn't like Fulmer.

We've woken up from a nightmare, no doubt. We're nine full months -and then some - away from tasting the proof no matter how your pudding looks right now.

We got a glimpse today. We'll continue to do so in recruiting, in filling out the staff and in spring practice. And as the passionate football fans we are at Tennessee, we'll enjoy the build up of that whole process.

Time will tell if this nightmare turns into a dream. But right now, no matter how you feel about Lane Kiffin, he deserves our support.

It's a new day for the University of Tennessee. You might be dancing in the streets. You might be cursing Mike Hamilton.

Wherever you are, remember what we've just been through, and then realize that this is a great opportunity, both for Kiffin and for Tennessee.

And realize we'll spend the next nine months seeing what we want to see...before the on-field result tells us everything we need to know.

It's going to continue to be interesting, that's for sure.

For what it's worth, he's got my support.

Go Vols.


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